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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

On Sunday, March 2, another poet (Tracey Schmidt) and I are offering a poetry concert here in Asheville.  For me, it brings together light and dark and finally offers healing.   Below are one of my darker poems and one of my lighter ones (neither will be featured in this particular show.  Here’s the link to the Facebook event page for the concert: https://www.facebook.com/events/1432431080323647/.

White

I went to the beach this morning
Caked with the dirt of my life
And of my ancestors.
The gray sky reflected
The despair of my soul.
The beach was covered with fresh snow
All its detail and edge cloaked
In a mantle of brilliant color
Or lack of color
Unimaginably bright in this dark time.
I quietly slipped under the snow
And wore it home.

With my poetry partner Tracey Schmidt

With my poetry partner Tracey Schmidt

Dancing In the Supermarket Parking Lot

My friend is late to meet me
In the Ingles parking lot
Neil Young, on my new-to-me CD
Is rocking “Cowgirl in the Sand”
12 minutes worth
On my 7-speaker car stereo
The early spring, early evening
Blazes light
And the lot is filled with space

And I just gotta dance

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I am depressed – an 8 (definite physical contraction) on my manic-depression scale.  And I am grieving.  And they are different.  And they tend to get all stuck together.  And I am working hard to separate them.

I crashed a week ago today, after once again being fairly manic (a 4, significantly expanded, on the md scale – see the tab at the top of this blog) for about a week.   Crashed hard.  And at the same time, my beloved dog Buddy was crashing hard – from cancer.  Looking back, I can see some signs that he was failing, but most of Thursday he was a happy little camper.  Then Friday he stopped eating and walking.  By Sunday he was peeing himself in his bed from not being able to get up and was in full liver failure – and I followed the vet’s advice to put him down before he got worse.

My Buddy

My Buddy

People who have never been really close with a dog tend not to get it why you can have a powerful grieving response to the death of an animal.  It’s a blessing to talk with someone who has been here and fully gets it.  So I am depressed and grieving – and it feels important to tease them apart.

The grieving is crisp, bright pain.  I don’t cry much these days, after earlier in my adult life being blessedly good at it.  (I had lost it during adolescence, but retrieved it when I learned peer co-counseling in my early 20’s.)  A friend told me a couple of years ago that she thinks the inability to cry is because of my psych meds.  I asked my psychiatrist after she said this and he said “Probably – the mood stabilizers smooth out your highs and lows, but can tend to muffle other feelings.  You have to decide if it’s worth the trade-offs.”  I appreciated his candor and decided, with some real regrets, that it was worth the trade-offs – at least for now.

Buddy helping me write

Buddy helping me write

But I’ve had three good cry’s over this.  The first was late Sunday afternoon, sitting next to Buddy on our deck in the waning light, an hour before taking him to the vet for the last time.  I had just taken the advice a friend gave me earlier in the afternoon to write a poem for Buddy (I write poetry).  When I tried to read it out to him, the floodgates burst.  The next two cry’s came on Monday and then Tuesday.  I’ve been grateful for them –  both because I believe that crying can be healing and because it is clear testimony that I let that little critter into my heart, I genuinely bonded with him.

By today, that good crisp pain has gotten all kind of blurred out by depression.  I am fighting to retrieve it.  I want to go to the heart of the pain, to be fully alive.  I may not, today, be able to not be depressed – but I want to be as human as I can at the same time.

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I’m running speedy today.  I’m hesitating to call myself manic, because there has been so much exciting stimulation in my life over the last couple of days that someone without bipolar disorder would probably be overstimulated and ungrounded.  But I’m calling myself a 4 – significantly expanded – on my Mania-Depression Scale, and there is the genuine risk of me getting manic.  The scales have tipped from the depressive end of the things and I need to let go of the tools I use to manage depression (seeking out extra stimulation, etc.) and bring in all my strategies for grounding (including somewhat reducing my stimulation, making sure to get enough sleep, etc).  A little bit ago, I laid out on the grass in the sun, one of the most powerful techniques I know for getting grounded.  Now, feel my butt in the chair, my feet on the floor, and breathe.  Let me take a moment to do these things.

After a couple of weeks of being mostly down, I'm ramping up again - time to shift from my energizing tools to my grounding tools.

After a couple of weeks of being mostly down, I’m ramping up again – time to shift from my energizing tools to my grounding tools.

(A minute later)  OK, I’m back.  It wouldn’t have hurt to do that longer, but this post is just wanting to write itself and I feel a need to capture it while it’s hot.  Getting it out will also be grounding.

My life has had several sources of exciting stimulation over the last 48 hours.  Wednesday afternoon, I previewed my 17-minute speech on bipolar disorder (my story – parallel to, but not quite the same as the”My bipolar journey” page at the top of this blog) for my performer/writing coach friend Nina Hart.  It was my first time since writing this piece two months ago to perform it for another person and was very exciting.  I had been manic when I wrote it and – even though it seemed to hold up while I was down – I never totally trust a creative piece I have produced when I’m up.

But Nina adored it – and had some excellent suggestions for how to improve it.  (Her most significant suggestion was, “You are so grippingly honest through the whole piece, then right at the end – when you bring the story into the present, how you are now – your integrity slips a little.  You paint your current situation more rosy than I think it is.  Your story will be less  powerful if you don’t stay equally honest right through to the end.”  Great feedback.  I knew she was right – and will make the changes tomorrow.

Honesty can be hard, but sometimes it's very freeing.

Honesty can be hard, but sometimes it’s very freeing.

I had a job interview yesterday about a job I’m enthused about.  This writing – and the public speaking, teaching and consulting about bipolar disorder that I see coming out of this – is my real work, but I also right now need an artist’s day job.  I think this job may be it, and I’m excited about it.

But more exciting than either of these was a gig I played last night.  Another piece of writing I produced when I was manic was a 6-minute piece of stand-up comedy I wrote four months ago.  When I crashed a couple of weeks later, I didn’t think it was any good.  Oh, I wrote this all up on a post that went up here on September 15 – so I’ll save the rest of that story.  You can go back and read it if you like.

Anyway, I performed this piece at church on September 15.  The title of the sermon was “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”  My piece, which i originally intended to be a sweet poem about the innocence of childhood – inspired by new grandbaby – under the influence of mania came out as this kind of wild comedic ride that I titled, “It’s never too late to have a screwed-up childhood.”  I thought it was strictly all for laughs, but I came to realize after I performed it that getting people laughing about the whole happy childhood/unhappy childhood dichotomy can be a therapeutic act.  Those of us who actually did have a screwed-up childhood may especially profit from the chance to laugh about all that.

So I was asked to reprise this piece at a benefit in a music club last night. I hired a video guy to capture it on videotape: I have a vision of it going up on a website that will help me promote my public speaking/teaching/consulting around bipolar disorder.  This would show my lighter side.

So I had a lot riding on this last night.  And it was a little intimidating playing a club, when most of my other performances have been in the cozy confines of my church.  Big crowds in my church – 200-300 people per service – but they know me and love my poetry.  These would be mostly strangers.

I'm playing a club!  Wow!

I’m playing a club! Wow!

When I first got up there, I was shocked by the stage lights: I couldn’t see the audience!  I had forgotten that this would be the case.  I usually rely on a lot of eye contact – I work the room.  And at first it wasn’t clear how well the crowd would respond.  They were there for music and here we were inserting spoken word near the end of the evening, right before the headliner band.  When I look at the video, I look a little physically frozen – my right arm mostly never moves.  But the crowd did warm up, I did find my rhythm and I finally had a lot of fun.

And the video came out really good.  You can view it on You Tube at

Enjoy.

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On my birthday last week, I created a vision for the next year of my life.  A lot of that positive vision has to do with bipolar disorder.  Last Friday I posted an entry on my personal healing through bipolar disorder in the next year.  Here I will share some elements of my vision for the blog this year.

  • Even though the blog is currently read by only a few people, I continue to honor and invest energy in it as if it was being read by many.  If one person with bipolar disorder gets help from it, that is more than worth it.  And treating it as valuable will form the basis for having it reach more people.
  • In the next year I promote the blog more – let people know about it: mental health professionals, friends and families and people with the disease.
  • By a year from now, there are many people out there who get from the blog tremendous comfort, inspiration, a sense of direction, information, and concrete tips.  It genuinely makes a difference in more and more lives.  It is the centerpiece of all of my work.
Healing.  All humans suffer from the illusion of separateness and so need healing. Our path for healing is through bipolar disorder.

Healing. All humans suffer from the illusion of separateness and so need healing. Our path for healing is through bipolar disorder.

  • In the next year, I do lots of research to deepen my understanding of bipolar disorder and the impacts it has on us – both the commonalities we have with each other and all the myriad ways we are different individuals and manifest the disease differently.  This research includes reading, attending workshops and conferences, and participating in support groups.
  • I add several additional features that make the blog an even more valuable resource.  These include a section (page) on treatments (though my eyes – treatments I have personally experienced or personally know a lot about), theories (especially my own ideas about the causes and healing of bipolar disorder – and a few others that have had a strong personal impact on me) and another page on resources (groups, books, other blogs, etc.).
  • All the writing I do on this blog – much of which is essentially memoir – supports me in finishing my memoir, which is so much about bipolar disorder.  This book, currently titled A Dark Awakening, itself helps lots of people and draws more readers to this blog.
  • Writing this blog and that memoir support my own healing and personal growth.

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Today Is my birthday.  I have been spending some significant time elaborating a vision for myself for the next year – itself a very positive act on a day on which, in spite of it being my birthday, I am relatively depressed.  I actually started out today more like a manic depression 9 (very contracted), but this visioning activity – and going to a very good Overeaters Anonymous meeting – have moved me to my current 8 rating (definite physical contraction).  And I again today sit in a complex healing state – with that definite physical contraction cohabiting with some positive internal elements. Very significant parts of that vision for my next year have to do with my recovery from bipolar disorder and my vision for this blog.  I’ll write about my personal healing today and about my vision for the blog in a later post.

A friend of mine is making me a gluten-free, sugar-free (agave) flourless chocolate cake for my birthday - and I know it will be scrumptious.

A friend of mine is making me a gluten-free, sugar-free (agave) flourless chocolate cake for my birthday – and I know it will be scrumptious.

First, my recovery.  My vision includes:

  • I don’t have a vision of complete recovery from bipolar disorder.  This could disappoint or upset some of my colleagues who write and teach about bipolar disorder.  Unless some new medication comes down the pike that controls the oscillation of my states from manic to depressed, my vision of healing includes that i heal through bipolar disorder rather than from it – that it is the walk I need to walk, a disease I need to manage, even if I some day get off of all meds.
  • I spend more time in what I’m calling complex healing states – states where elements of up and down coexist together, where the polarization of my manic and depressed states gets a chance to heal because the two parts of myself get a chance to know and influence each other.
  • My prevailing state shifts gradually more towards the peaceful state (md 6) on my manic depression scale.  I spend less time on the more extreme levels – further from the balanced 6 – and more time right on it.  This is supported and facilitated by all the elements that support my healing – from psychotherapy to Overeaters Anonymous, the 12 Steps and wrestling with the concept of a higher power to ecstatic dancing and all kinds of other relationships and resources that are detailed elsewhere in this blog.
Balance - the elusive state that for me is the Grail for people with bipolar disorder.

Balance – the elusive state that for me is the Grail for people with bipolar disorder.

  • Because of this healing, I am able to negotiate with my psychiatrist and to manage successfully a gradual decrease in my psychotropic meds.  I hold out the possibility that eventually I will be off them altogether, but I don’t see anything like that happening in the next year.  I don’t think it’s in the cards for everybody with bipolar disorder to get off of or even reduce their meds, but it is part of my personal vision.
  • Last night I attended my first meeting of Magnetic Minds (http://magneticminds.weebly.com/), the Asheville chapter of the national group Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (http://www.dbsalliance.org).  I liked it and intend to go back.  I visualize that this group will support my own healing, that I will be able to offer helpful support, inspiration and information to other members (partly by offering them this blog), and that the group will deepen my understanding of bipolar disorder and the impact it has on those who deal with it.
  • Writing (this blog and my memoir) supports my in my own healing through bipolar disorder.
  • This year – partly based on this blog and my memoir – I begin to do some public speaking and teaching on the topic -some volunteer through NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and progressively more for pay.  This supports me in my own healing.
  • I will continue my own reading on bipolar disorder, especially books and blogs by others with the disease, but also including scholarly and professional writing.  This will both give me more to share on the blog and support my own healing.

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I’m in trouble – I’m not sleeping.  Having written late last night about the bad old days when I used to pull all-nighters, I came precariously close to one last night.

Yesterday I read that as part of the amazingly exciting six month entrepreneurship class I just signed up for, a member of our student cohort who owns a TV studio has offered to shoot and edit a video for each of us to put on our websites.  On fire with this vision, last night at 11 p.m. (time to be in bed, especially when I am already running too fast and got up at 4;30) I sat down to write a speech about bipolar disorder that was forming itself in my head.

An hour later i snapped out of the mesmerism of writing, having written a 17-minute speech telling in brief form the history of my bipolar disorder – really blinding fast for such a long speech.  And it’s hot – I know it is.  It’s powerful, poignant – at times brutal in its honesty.  Yet, after definitely descending to depths that resonate with just how low my true-life story has at times gone, it does come out into the light and ends in a golden place of hope.  Not rosy pie-in-sky happy – still grounded and realistic.  Not all healed, but definitely showing the promise of healing.

At a quarter past midnight, I wrote an email to a friend who I assumed was asleep – a good friend who has followed closely the events of my last few days: all the excitement around this blog and about my new training.  I told her, “When this video goes on my website, i believe that as soon as I start seriously marketing my public speaking I’m going to start getting gigs.”  And even now, the next day, this seems like not an unrealistic projection.  Pretty heady stuff.

I went to bed around 12:30, still very stimulated.  I thought, “If I sleep until 6:30, that’s six hours – not bad.”  i knew I was not that confident of making it asleep until 6:30 – that morning I had been up and writing at my computer at 4:30.  I looked on my little bedside table at the novel I’ve been reading at bedtime, and greatly enjoying, and thought – “Not tonight, too late”.  But I realized that I actually did not feel very sleepy, so I read for a while.  It is such a good story and so well written that it was too stimulating last night to soothe me towards sleep and I put it aside after 15 minutes, no closer to sleep than when i started it.  I don’t know how long it was until I actually fell asleep, but I know that when I did fall asleep, I slept lightly and fitfully.  And at 1:30 I was up to take a pee.  On my way back to the bedroom, I pulled a hard left and headed downstairs to the kitchen to get some peanut butter (a guilty pleasure of mine – for some reason peanut butter, one of my favorite foods, never tastes as good as in the middle of the night).  I told myself that putting a little something in my tummy might help me to sleep.

Five minutes and four spoonfuls of peanut butter later (my usual dose), I had the light off and was laying in bed awaiting sleep.  And it never came.  i first stayed really still, eyes closed, willing sleep to come.  Then my eyes popped open, but I still laid very quiet.  in my head, I had begun to write.  I was writing two pieces at once – part of my brain starting this blog post and another part editing the speech I had written last night.  The idea of getting up and starting my day after one hour of very fitful sleep was very threatening: “That’s damn near an all-nighter.”  But even when I am tending towards mania and needing the sleep, the artist in me does have a policy of “You don’t refuse the Muse.”  When she is giving you writing to do, it is at your own artistic peril that you refuse her.  It is exquisitely painful when she decides you are an unworthy host and turns her back on you.

So I got up.  I disciplined myself, as always, to make the bed – the chaos of an unmade bed disturbs my nervous system.  “But maybe I should leave it unmade, to leave open the possibility of going back to bed in an hour or two.  That would still only be 3:30 or 4:30.”  But I knew that was hopeless – I’m up now, up for the day.  So 10 minutes after planting feet on the floor, I was down here at the kitchen table at my laptop, writing (chamomile tea steeping on the table next to me – maybe that will settle me down a little).  And i tried quickly to transcribe both pieces I had been writing in my head, before either of them disappeared.  And I was mostly successful.

So here I am at 2:55, having had an hour of sleep and with no hope that I will get more.  I’m concerned about myself.

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Nothing can defeat depression more consistently than a clear, powerful sense of life purpose.

When I am very depressed, my life is dominated by nihilistic mantras like “Nothing helps and nothing matters” and “This is all bullshit” – which, on  a really bad day, may audibly escape my lips several times an hour.  This kind of devastatingly negative experience of my personal world cannot co-exist with a positive vision for what I have to contribute to the world – how i intend to make the world a better place by living out my unique sense of personal calling.

I’m definitely running high today – at least a 4 on my manic depression scale (see page at top of blog).  This morning I woke at 4:30 – really the early limit on when I normally wake up.  But I was up and at the computer within just a few minutes, buzzing with ideas for this and a couple other blog posts.  It’s exciting, it’s positive, it’s constructive.  It’s infinitely better than the alternative when I’m depressed – lying in bed for hours, trying/pretending to be asleep, really just not ready or willing to face my life.   There is so much clear reason why I would be running high.  But I still need to take this running high very seriously, to do everything I possibly can do to ground myself.

The first big factor that has me running high is this blog.  This blog is so clearly linked to my own sense of life purpose that it is tremendously important to me.

The second, even bigger factor that has me running high is that in the last couple of days I have gotten dramatically clearer on my sense of life purpose.  I have more and more intuitively sensed that this blog is somehow central to my personal calling, but that sense has been mostly only intuitive – murky, not well fleshed out.  But in the last two days that vision for my future has come together: threads that for weeks-months-years have been floating around in background, in and out of consciousness, have coalesced into a clear picture.

Yes, this blog is central to my future – and here is why.  This blog is a jumping-off point for the business that will carry me into this last phase of generativity in my life.  Out of this blog will be birthed three books and a public speaking business that will allow me to devote my full time to powerfully making a difference in the world.  It all has to do with bipolar disorder.  It is something that is so central to the truth of my life, the unique personal path that I walk.  After working for 20 years as a clinical psychologist and dealing with this disease for so long, it is a topic on which I am uniquely qualified to speak.  I have, over the last 15 years, applied the personal consciousness that has been shaped by 35 years of personal and spiritual growth work, to the healing of this disease.  I have learned a lot – it is meant to be shared.

My poetry book - my first foray into self-publishing.  I have sold 130 copies of this xeroxed poetry "chapbook" - a good and encouraging experience around putting my writing out into the world.  You can order it from the link on the right!

My poetry book – my first foray into self-publishing. I have sold 130 copies of this xeroxed poetry “chapbook” – a good and encouraging experience around putting my writing out into the world. You can order it from the link on the right!

My first book - "finished" for several years now, just waiting for me to do something with it.  Really a pretty solid book - some people adore it.

My first book – “finished” for several years now, just waiting for me to do something with it. Really a pretty solid book – some people adore it.

My next book, for mental health professionals, survivors and family/friends.  The product of 20 years practice of clinical psychology and more years of struggling with the disease - and, now, of this blog.  I have a lot to say on the topic.

My next book, for mental health professionals, survivors and family/friends. The product of 20 years practice of clinical psychology and more years of struggling with the disease – and, now, of this blog. I have a lot to say on the topic.

A self-help book for people with the disorder.  Besides my clinical psychology and personal bipolar history, I have taught all manner of personal growth courses for 30 years, designed courses for management consulting firms, etc.  It's a natural for me.

A self-help book for people with the disorder. Besides my clinical psychology and personal bipolar history, I have taught all manner of personal growth courses for 30 years, designed courses for management consulting firms, etc. It’s a natural for me.

The vision that inspired my fire walk in June: what I was willing to do "no matter what it takes", what I would walk across hot coals to realize.  It was a moment of  personal triumph - and clear vision.

The vision that inspired my fire walk in June: what I was willing to do “no matter what it takes”, what I would walk across hot coals to realize. It was a moment of personal triumph – and clear vision.

Public speaking has clearly, for a long time, been meant to be part of my life purpose.  I’m a performer, it’s in my DNA – it’s my karma.  Back in Chicago, I won some very high awards  for my public speaking in that region of 1500 Toastmasters.  Here in Asheville, I have for nine years now performed my poetry four times a year at Jubilee, my non-denominational church – where we can get 500-700 people at two services on a Sunday and where my performance poetry is absolutely adored.  Three years ago, I and two other men poets attracted 75 people, midweek for $10 a head, to an evening of poetry.  I went into an absolute zone, brought the house down, and emerged from that evening into a mountain top experience where I knew that my writer’s voice – and my performing – were meant for a much bigger stage than Jubilee, bigger than Asheville.

A vision for a public speaking business based on this blog and these books.  I'm a phenomenal speaker - it's work I was born to do.

A vision for a public speaking business based on this blog and these books. I’m a phenomenal speaker – it’s work I was born to do.

But I never was able to find the baby steps to realize that overwhelmingly powerful vision and I collapsed into a very deep depression – actually into a downward spiral that went on for over three years.  Now I am back to that mountain-top vision, but this time I have baby steps to take – this blog, one post at a time.  This blog will lead me towards those bigger goals.

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